Monday, January 31, 2011

Taha's Family

Day One


Taha had initially learned to ski in Austria but had mostly skied in Kazakhstan - so this was definitely going to be interesting. I've never met anyone before who skied in Kazakhstan. Prior to changing anything we recorded his skiing on video. Well I had to give full marks for determination.  It probably takes a lot of talent to ski so well with so little technique.  The skiing was visibly stressful and not looking like a whole lot of fun - so there was clearly a lot of work to do to put this right.

The main problems obvious in Taha's skiing were that he was leaning on the back of the ski boots and locking up the leg muscles. The legs were stiff and static. The skiing was two footed and with a twisting outwards of the upper ski  into a stem to begin the turn. The entire body would rotate and and he would drift sideways as a result. The hands were held way too low pulling the shoulders down. On the positive side he did move into the turn with his body once there was a bit of speed - and he never fell over despite all the problems.

It was very difficult to know where to begin so I decide to try "dynamics" because Taha had quite an aggressive attitude and would not be afraid to experiment with accelerations. At least with the dynamics it might be possible to become aware of "pushing out" the skis and start to replace it with a conscious movement inwards of the Center of Mass.

Taha quickly understood the difference between "balance" and "dynamics" and could understand that the idea was to "fall over". We did the standard "wall" exercises on the slope with Taha leaning against my shoulder and feeling the effects of both statics and accelerations on the pressure on his feet. He was able to change this in his skiing almost immediately, but only when doing it as an exercise. When thinking of anything else the old movement pattern would return with the leg pushing out instead of the body moving in. This is normal for anyone with a strongly built in movement pattern and a successful survival strategy invested in it.

Skating Lesson
Taha had never skated and had no skating skills. This was obvious because he could not skate across the flats to displace himself. Skating is an extremely important fundamental skill to have in skiing so we needed to look at that as soon as possible. I rapidly taught Taha how to skate on the flat by diverging his skis and having him hold onto my poles and push me along backwards. Replacing me with a slight fall forwards causes forward propulsion. Gravity is actually the source of the forwards propulsion when this is done correctly. Most people think it is just muscle power but it is a controlled fall. This fall relates directly to dynamics in skiing for several reasons. Basically skiing is just an exaggeration of this fall with the ski actually bringing the skier back up. The timing of the leg use - down then up - corresponds to the dynamics of "toppling" or falling to get the CM into the turn and then the ski bringing the skier back up out of the turn.

Feet and stance
Over a coffee indoors we removed the ski boots and worked on the basic stance and use of the feet. Taha kept one boot on and when he placed the weight evenly over the feet and bent down he could feel the ankle "collapse" on the leg with no ski boot and the other ankle being supported by the ski boot. I explained that both are wrong. We never want the ankle to collapse and never want the boot to take over the work of the leg. We need to support ourselves and strengthen the ankles. The key to making this simple I demonstrated was to stand on the heels. Bending when standing on the heels causes the ankle to stiffen and all the bending to take place in the hips and knees - which is what we want. If you pull up the toes you can feel the anterior tibialis also stiffen up and strengthen - that's the muscle running up the outside of the shin. This can be complimented now by using the freedom of movement in the sub talar joint between the ankle and the heel to rock the feet from edge to edge - corresponding to the edges of the skis. This stance does NOT cause a skier to fall backwards - it permits him to stand up. Taha's "leaning back" comes from a combination of simply trying to remain vertical instead of perpendicular to the slope and because he was always previously trying to press down and in on the ball of the foot and big toe, bend the ankle and lean forward - which collapses the ankle and causes instability and "falling backwards" instead.

Feet rolling
Taha immediately incorporated feet-rolling with his new dynamics and when he did it correctly it really made a difference. The problem is that he would keep reverting to his old ways.


Little Mete, aged six and a half, was starting from scratch.

We began on the flat just stepping around in circles. To begin with Mete creatively found his own way of turning. I wanted him to push off the ski using the edge but he decided to push off the other foot and step the ski out and turn it in the air at the same time. This was easily corrected and we soon moved on to sliding along on one ski, then to skating on two skis and bringing in the knees slightly to feel the inside edges of the skis. His knees were initially going outwards so the correction was necessary.

Pole holding
To get Mete up and running quickly I decided to help him by using one of my ski poles to support him along side me. He was quite comfortable with this approach and I'd be able to control him so that he would get the right sensations of parallel skiing from the very beginning.

Forward diagonal Sideslip
The start of the beginner's slope is quite steep so it involved a lot of forward diagonal sides-slip. Mete had no problem copying my skis  with his ski and never once struggled or had a problem. He responded well to be pulled into a parallel turn from the side-slip so I maintained this process - always starting this turn from the uphill edges.

Pulling top ski against my pole
I used my pole in the ground for Mete to pull against with the inside of the tip of one of his skis - so that he could feel the adductor muscles on the inside of his leg and how to use them. He understood this very effectively and was able to exploit it correctly right from the start - because he didn't have any "snowplough" to deal with.

Pivot turn
Mete was shown the pivot turn from the top ski and understood it straight away. He wasn't pushing the top ski out anyway so had no trouble keeping the top ski off its inside edge and pulling it into the turn. he quickly managed to do this when skiing with me supporting him and then I asked him to control and dictate the turns - which he managed to do well.

By the end of this first session Mete was able to ski the bottom part of the slope alone and some turns were almost parallel already.

Day Two

Mete and Cagatay

Day two was for both the boys - Mete and Cagatay. Chagatay missed day one due to feeling poorly after travelling but now looked in fine form to get started on his skiing.

Cagatay already had a very little bit of skiing and so could slide down a very small slope and snowplough, so we didn't waste any time and just went straight up the moountain - to the top - of the beginner's slope - where I would assist both Mete and Catagay to descend. To start with I took both of the boys side by side on my ski pole and was surprised to find that it worked very well. I expected some sort of pile up but it never happened. Both boys were thoroughly enjoying themselves and I was focussing on making them feel the right sensations of acceleration, edging, side-slipping  and speed control across the hill. This is just another way of learning to "understand" skiing - without too many words.

Mete very rapidly progressed so that he could descend nearly all the slope by himself and after a few runs he was even able to tackle the sheet ice traverse with a very long forward diagonal side-slip - his top ski slightly diverging uphill as I had advised. Most people panic on such a traverse and point the top ski downhill in a plough and then accelerate out of control. Mete did a good job here and had good control over his body. 

With Mete now fully independent I could focus on bringing Cagatay up to speed. He responded in a similar way to his brother and liked speed - but only when I was holding on to him! Both Cagatay and Mete had difficulty standing on the left leg and had strong tendencies to prefer the right leg - even when they should have been on the left. All this takes to cure is for it to be explained and for more practise. We all have a preference for one leg or the other - it is only more obvious when dealing with beginner issues and when learning skiing without  a snowplough - thus a requirement to stand on one leg and ski almost parallel from day one.

Cagatay was taught the "pivot turn" just like Mete the day before - but had a tendency to convert it into his snowplough  to begin with. I talked him though the turns constantly and progressively he managed to change things. 

Lifting and padding inside ski
Mete was able to go off and ski with his dad while I focussed on Catagay. I told the boys to lift up the inside ski during the turn - but to pad it up and down on the ground through the turn - so as to make them stand more on the one outside leg and to reduce any tendency towards a defensive snowplough. 

Magic Wall
The boys heard about the "Magic Wall" for the first time - the invisible wall that appears either side of them when the move forwards! I pretended to be that wall and they did the dynamics "shoulder lean" exercises. I explained that the harder they pushed against the invisible wall the stronger they would be and that they couldn't fall over - if they believed in the magic. Of course they would feel nothing against the shoulder because you don't actually feel the invisible wall (in adult speak the invisible wall is called an "angular acceleration" - and it's real)

The boys both practised the magic wall and lifting the inside ski and by the end of the day Mete was more or less skiing parallel - that is he was parallel on his right leg and not so much on his left. Cagatay managed to ski from half way down the slope on his own in good control so he was already semi independent with the snowplough steadily disappearing and being replaced by dynamics and the support of the outside leg.

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